Like any organization, state and local governments are always looking for solutions to improve communication between teams, departments and other agencies. And more sophisticated workflows make mastering newer collaboration tools more important than ever.
“Productivity today is centered on conversations, whether it’s a quick instant message, an impromptu phone call or a meeting with voice, video and content sharing,” explains Mike Donlan, vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. state and local government business.
For IT leaders, enabling those conversations starts with implementing the right tools.
King County (Wash.) CIO Bill Kehoe, for example, rolled out Skype for Business, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Office 365 for Government five years ago to help county employees connect and collaborate.
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in staff productivity and savings from not having to travel to and from meetings — and there are thousands of meetings that occur over a month’s time,” he says.
Beyond driving productivity and streamlining operations, collaboration tools like those used in King County can significantly cut expenses.
In Orlando, Fla., for instance, the 9th Judicial Circuit Court saved $200,000 in interpreter costs across its 70 courtrooms by providing video interpretation services via Cisco Systems TelePresence equipment.
And, according to an interview with former state CIO Flint Waters, Wyoming racked up $1 million in estimated savings after replacing its email systems with Google Apps. The state then cut another $1 million or more in storage costs by adopting Google Drive.
While the potential benefits are impressive, simply placing collaboration tools in workers’ hands won’t produce results. Government technology experts recommend following a strategic plan that includes these best practices:
When Kehoe began his countywide technology rollout five years ago, it wasn’t enough for him to find tools that met the county’s collaboration needs at the time; he also had to keep an eye on the horizon.
“We make sure we’re following our strategic plan and our strategic goals and looking to the future, so we’re not having to go back and ask for additional investment in a few years to go to a new product,” he explains.
Kehoe recommends that state and local governments follow a similar approach by implementing sustainable collaboration platforms that can be upgraded constantly.
Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, says a tactic he’s seen governments employ successfully is to rely on just one technology company to address most or all of collaboration needs, including software, hardware and security.
Bowker says opting for this simple, single-vendor model over a multivendor solution can save governments both time and money.
“Really, that is very beneficial,” he says. “It makes it easier from a buying perspective, overall implementation and an ongoing maintenance perspective.”
Because today’s powerful collaboration solutions often bear little resemblance to incumbent tools, technology rollouts are likely to meet resistance.
“Workers don’t always understand the capabilities of some of these new tools and how they can help them,” Kehoe says.
He recommends that leaders take time up front to understand employees’ needs so they can help state and local workers envision the ways new technologies will improve workflows.
“Don’t underestimate the change management piece of implementation,” Kehoe adds.
Waters, who now works as a government technical account manager for Google, says his public-sector clients often create an in-house support network to ensure successful implementations.
“They identify go-to experts within the organization to champion the rollouts and serve as embedded resources,” he says.
Kehoe recommends that state and local governments also couple traditional in-person instruction with on-demand training opportunities for employees who are pressed for time. When deploying SharePoint in King County, Kehoe’s team created three- to five-minute refresher videos discussing the application’s features; the videos were extremely popular, Kehoe says.
Although producing such resources can take a lot of time and attention, the effort pays off if state and local employees begin to feel at ease using the new collaboration solution.
“If they’re not comfortable, they won’t use it,” Kehoe says about the alternative. “And that’s the worst scenario of all.”